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LOS ANGELES � Law professors and law school deans, particularly in California, said University of California, Irvine could have difficulty recruiting a new dean and professors after its chancellor abruptly rescinded his offer last week to Duke Law School Professor Erwin Chemerinsky to become the first dean of its law school. On Sept. 11, U.C. Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake withdrew an offer he had made to Chemerinsky a month earlier because he turned out to be “too politically controversial,” according to Chemerinsky. Drake said politics had nothing to do with his last-minute decision. “It wasn’t his political opinions, because those don’t differ from hundreds of people on campus,” he said. “It was working together with him in building a school.” Drake acknowledged that he handled his decision poorly. “I understand the messiness of that and regret it very much,” he said. “I would criticize it, too.” The split baffled law professors and law school deans. Some criticized the politics behind Drake’s decision, while others argued that a “lightning rod” like Chemerinsky might not have been the best choice for the dean of a new law school that is attempting to build constituents. But the way Drake handled the situation, regardless of the reason, was disappointing to most scholars, and could have a detrimental effect on the dean search. “This is really sad for UCI,” said Laurie Levenson, criminal law and ethics professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. “The caliber of professor they wanted for recruits won’t join an institution when they can’t make sure their contracts mean anything. It’s just absolutely the wrong way to start out for a law school.” Bloody fight Chemerinsky said he signed a contract the day after Labor Day. But last week, Drake told him there was growing opposition to his appointment from conservatives. The U.C. Board of Regents was scheduled to vote on his appointment at its regular meeting on Sept. 19 and 20. “He thought it would be a bloody fight within the Board of Regents that, if I got confirmed, would damage the law school,” Chemerinsky said. “Some of the opposition was from conservatives on the Board of Regents. Some of it was from the Orange County community.” Drake later told him he “had proven to be too politically controversial,” Chemerinsky said. But Drake said Chemerinsky wasn’t the right pick for “innumerable reasons,” none of which involved politics, he said. “I felt that we would not . . . do things in the same way.” Law professors and law school deans said they were disappointed at the way in which Drake abruptly changed his mind after extending the offer to Chemerinsky. Several professors noted that Chemerinsky’s liberal views have been no secret for years and raised questions about why Drake made the offer, and then withdrew it at the last minute. More importantly, Drake’s decision displayed major flaws in the school’s hiring procedures. “You don’t go far in the search with someone when a significant segment of your stakeholders is going to be unhappy,” said Scott Bice, professor of law at University of Southern California Gould School of Law, who was dean from 1980 to 2000. He said the sudden withdrawal gives the appearance that some constituents were uninformed during the hiring process. With a new law school, because there are no faculty or alumni to assist in selecting a founding dean, major donors might be more involved in the process than they would be at an established school, he said. Local billionaire Donald Bren, who gave $20 million to U.C. Irvine last month, and for whom the law school is named, denied any involvement. “Mr. Bren doesn’t know enough about Mr. Chemerinsky to even have any opinion and has not expressed an opinion pro or con to anyone,” said John Christensen, spokesman for The Irvine Co., of which Bren is chairman. Several professors said the political reasons behind Drake’s decision, if true, could be detrimental to the school’s ability to recruit noted legal scholars. “The University of California, which has a superb reputation, has done itself a great disservice,” said Douglas Kmiec, chairman and professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law. “Who would want to teach there? What scholar will not have a question in his or her mind about whether or not they are stepping over some intellectual Maginot Line, or that their tenure will be jeopardized, or course assignments changed, or somehow they won’t be given the opportunity to do the levels of research that others are given?” He said some Pepperdine officials raised questions about former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr’s conservative politics when considering him for dean. But Starr, who took the job in 2004, has proven successful at raising resources and hiring with fairness, he said. Still, U.C. Irvine’s decision isn’t altogether unjustified, said Eugene Volokh, a constitutional law professor at University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. The reasons to hire a dean are not the same as those to hire faculty, whose academic freedom absolves them of political pressures. “If a dean is too much of a lightning rod and not an effective leader, because he [spurred] political opposition, that seems reasonable” not to hire him, Volokh said. “A dean has to be a legal player with government officials and the community of donors around him. You might very well look for qualities in an administrator, including the quality of being less controversial and a little bit more appealing to everybody, rather than polarizing some donors or some legislators.”

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